A New American Dream
Delivered to Napa Fellowship
Sunday, July 4, 2010 11:00 a.m.
I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting me here. It is an honor to be here among this fellowship of Unitarian Universalists in such a beautiful part of the world to worship together this morning on such a wondrous yet complicated holiday. I feel truly blessed.
I recall back when I was a child--probably around kindergarten age-- my sisters and I would go out in our pajamas and sit on the curb of County Road B. We were joining many of the neighbor kids to watch the nightly fireworks display held at the Minnesota state fair grounds. Every Summer, for the week leading up to labor day, we did this faithfully every night that the Minnesota state fair was happening. And they also had fireworks on the 4th of July as well. I figured out that was just for the one night, though the fireworks display was markedly more impressive that night.
Until about a decade ago, my favorite of all the fireworks had been that one that stands out because it’s so different. Most of the fireworks explode into showers of beautiful patterns of glittering color. I enjoyed these as well, but my favorite was the one that just exploded as a big gray dot. Given that the fairgrounds were about 3 miles away, we’d see them and then it would be several seconds before we’d hear the sound, and I always looked forward to that one for it’s louder POOMPH! sound.
I miss those carefree innocent days sitting in my pajamas on the curb. Now when I experience the fireworks, I think not only of their glorification of war and war patriotism, but I think also about this country’s multitude of combat veterans with PTSD, for whom that loud POOMPH! sound brings dread and horror. And I am shocked that our country, even during times of ongoing wars, and shellshocked soldiers, continues this practice wholeheartedly. In my dream for America, I can see a place for fireworks, for people to remember the wars long-past. Such a commemoration could be a thing of beauty, but with our nation actively engaged in two major wars, it seems to me that this part of the American dream is in need of change.
At this year’s General Assembly, our delegates said YES to a statement of conscience committing ourselves to the path of creating peace. More than ever, I know that Unitarian Universalism is a good home for me, and I hope you do as well. In this mission, we truly are anointed by God to create peace.
This is about peace not just for our nation, but also in our lives. Peace in our lives is at the heart of my American dream.
War is an American way of life. Correction: War has been an American way of life, but it need not continue to be so. When war is firmly embedded in the greater culture, it affects each of us in the way we live our lives. This includes the foods we buy--when our nation went to war in 2001, the prices at the grocery store rose dramatically. A culture of war affects the transportation we use, especially when our wars are associated with national energy policy. It affects the housing we purchase (or are unable to purchase). A looming budget for war also greatly affects the budget available for education, social welfare programs, and energy research, just to name a few. With war as this nation’s top priority, I believe each of us struggle to keep warlike “us and them” thinking from finding a place in our own psyches.
War comes thundering for resources, garnering them for its own uses. When we think like war, we clutch our wallets tight when asked for money, look for the highest return on investment, and cling to individual bank accounts, even as the banks dream up ever more novel and insidious reasons for charging fees.
War operates on fear of retaliation, always seeking to have the upper hand. When we think like war, we want to be in control of whatever situation, lest we be wounded or taken down a notch.
War has a tendency to leave a trail of decimation in its wake. In our own lives, how often do we find ourselves unable to engage authentically with another person because of the economic decimation that has been visited upon them, often through no fault of their own.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can’t survive this way in the long term (even if some people might do well in the short term), so another way of life is necessary. A new vision is necessary, focused on a new center. I recommend that that center needs to be peace. One might imagine our world leaders and corporate leaders all coming to a decisive conclusion that “enough is enough” and declaring an end to this competitive system of resource acquisition, where billions of lives are on the line. While most definitely welcome, such a change would be a discontinuity of the first order.
No, that center needs to be peace in our own lives. The trickle-down theory didn’t work in economics, and indications are that it likely wouldn’t work for peace. Peace needs to follow the bubble-up method within each of us, and we need to share it. I believe it will start small.
Peace on the individual level begins when we realize that we can and must forgive ourselves. Whatever it is that we think we’ve done, or what we’re thinking or feeling, it starts with a big breath in and letting our shoulders release. It begins when we take our first principle to heart, for ourselves. The inherent worth and dignity of every person—that includes each of us here in this space.
Once we’ve done that, that basic level of inner peace can open us up to search for our path of personal peace. We can build our lives around that peace path. I feel that a good next step is a little reflection on where our lives are at and where our energy is directed. Reflection is always important, and often a critical step that gets skipped. Three important steps in discerning action are to:
First, figure out what’s happening;
Second, to reflect on the meaning of the event at hand.
Third, decide what to do.
Many people skip that second step of reflection.
Upon reflecting on the fact that by some miracle I’m alive and have forgiven myself, I believe a high priority ought to be establishing sufficient dedicated time and space for quiet fellowship with our divine source. That source may be from the divinity within each of us, or it may mean the divinity between you and a friend, or the divinity that wends its way among you and your community of friends. Or it may be the divinity beyond what you’ve thus far known. Your seeking soul may want to know other cultures, or open up imaginatively to an infinitude of possibilities and understandings that exist in any moment. Or you may find your divine source in all of those places, or somewhere else entirely, or you may choose to call it something else entirely. Wherever it is, connecting with that source is essential.
Those divine connections take time to grow. As we invest time in that spiritual growth, our anxieties and insecurities diminish, and we will more deeply discover right-relationship with others in our lives.
A part of my American dream is for us to develop deep and engaged connection with each other. I have a note to myself to write a sermon one day about how “a strong interpersonal presence makes room for a rich sense of community.” Who am I including in that community? Obviously, all of the people in this congregation. Further, I’m referring to the people we meet on the street, and even the people whom we’ll never meet. Here, I mean giving deeply of our energy through taxes and labor into a commonwealth, a trust from which we all may draw in time of need. Earlier, during my rant about what war does to us, I said it garners resources to itself. With this culture’s tendency toward radical individuality, we each feel the pressure to fend for ourselves and hold our wallets tight. We squirrel away for our own individual retirement, or try to get away from living paycheck-to-paycheck, which creates a strong urge to not make our energy available to everyone else. When the commonwealth/trust of collected resources that we rely on is running on empty, there is a feeling of abandonment and being on our own. I get this feeling a lot when I hear about forces within government seeking to cut taxes, to borrow money from the future, and still spending mightily, but spending on things that do not support our common welfare and security. This undermines our trust and faith in one another, and in our leaders who we wish to be good stewards. In cases where a pool of resources has been built up, there is greater security, a stronger sense of community, and a deeper trust of one another and of our leaders.
When we develop these resource pools in small groups, and the groups become larger and the pools become larger, it will be the leaders who feel abandoned. Lately, those in control in America have shown us visions that amount to rubbish anyway. In a time of plenty—we still do have plenty, look at any grocery store, clothing store, or housing classifieds section and you’ll see there are more than enough resources to go around, but it’s a matter of deciding who gets use of the resources. In a time of plenty, these leaders seek mainly to serve their individual empires; and by turning a blind eye to the poor, or giving small charitable sums from mostly ill-gotten fortunes allowing only for basic subsistence—by treating others this way, they do not foster any sense of community and security for anyone. That American dream is thriving, but the way of life it represents is like a vampire, leeching blood and energy away from everyone else’s common dreams. But before we decide to drive a stake into the heart of this vampire, we may do well to do a little reflection. Lest we look into the mirror and find ourselves only a shadow. Perhaps since we’ve been going along with somebody else’s dreams for so long, grafting ours onto an unkind pattern of existence, the common dreams we were born with may seem distant and dim. At this point, I’ll drop my shoulders again and take another deep breath and say we need to forgive ourselves, because it’s a new day.
Eventually, all of this dreaming is for the purpose of creating some concrete reality. I’d like to share a bit of the things that I foresee us doing as a result of our commitment to peace. As a result of our commitment to peace within ourselves, to our neighbors, and to our spherical home, we will build a new world.
In this world, I see us making peace with the planet by choosing abundant renewable natural resources. I see us learning to share on deeper levels, with consensual co-housing where groups of families live together with private space for each family and shared public space. We would also share gardens, vehicles, friendship, and tools, recognizing our positions on the planet as that of temporary stewards, rather than as permanent owners. I see us building beautiful homes from the most natural materials available.
In this world, I see us adopting a mantra of “simple living is a good way of giving,” where we realize that when we own lots of stuff, that stuff begins to control us. Not only can we spread our own wealth around, we can make sure that everybody gets firsts before we go back for seconds and thirds. Then again, when we know that ours is a culture of plenty, we will unlearn old habits of hoarding.
In this world, I see a large pool of publicly-held resources, democratically controlled by responsible ethical stewards. This pool would go where our public need is greatest. With the end of inexpensive oil upon us shortly, we will need better mass transit systems. From this pool, we can create a multitude of jobs building trains that run on electricity. Trains for transporting people and supplies both within cities and between cities.
I see a world where we conserve energy by moving around a lot less. As much as possible, we will get our food and resources locally, or even from our own backyard gardens. And using current communication technology, we’ll be able to virtually visit anyone anytime we like without traveling, and we’ll be able to spend significant time at home.
In this world, I see every employable person actually employed. There is so much work to be done in this world, be it planting trees, picking up trash, cleaning beaches, or gardening. So to have even a single person instead devoting their energy full-time toward finding a job is a crime. Furthermore, instead of some people working huge hours and some unemployed, we could all be working 25-30 hours per week. Today’s unfortunate high level of unemployment is an artificial creation, caused partly by a lack of trust on the part of those in control of the resources necessary for production, and partly because when there is a surplus of workers available, it is easier for businesses to get cheap labor.
In this world, I see people earning a basic living wage regardless of their station in life, and nobody without a home or food. A simple 2-bedroom mud-brick home with electricity and running water can be built for $20,000. Doing the math, to house 2 million people would cost $20 billion. If we were to reallocate the US military budget toward housing, we could build new permanent housing for well over 60 million people every year. It’s a question of priorities. Of course we don’t need to build that many homes because there aren’t that many homeless people, and there actually are a lot of empty buildings already available.
All this talk doesn’t mean we have to “give everything up.” Much of the technological progress that has been made is remarkable and will be part of the solutions we arrive at. Humanity has always valued cheap labor, and has always tended toward greater efficiency. Our systems of automation have greatly increased worker productivity, and soon we will have non-sentient robots to do many of the most difficult, dangerous, or unwanted jobs. Since this is wine country, I will share a particular dream I have been pondering. In the not-too-distant future, we will be able to turn water into wine automatically, perhaps with only the aid of a vintner to get the mix right. Robots can tend and harvest the grapes, de-stem them, crush them, and mix them into the fermenter, bottle them, and perhaps even deliver them to your door.
When I think upon what we will do with that free time, I realize there is still so much to do before that happens. But one day with that time, we will build community gardens, we will play musical instruments for the simple joy of it, or horseshoes, or Frisbee golf. We will spend time in fellowship with our divine sources. We will write books, and we’ll continue to explore life’s mysteries. There will be time for all who want a full education to get one. We’ll sing songs together. We’ll make gifts for one another. We’ll give a present to this planet by working to restore and heal all that we can. And we’ll break bread together, often, in peace. Amen.
agape to all,